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Blackboard President and CEO Michael Chasen Shares Lessons from Starting and Growing a Company at NVTC Titans Breakfast

On Thursday, Nov. 15, members of the technology community gathered at The Ritz-Carlton, Tysons Corner for an NVTC Titans breakfast featuring Blackboard President and CEO Michael Chasen. During the event, Chasen, who will step down as Blackboard's CEO at the end of the year, shared five lessons he learned from starting a company and growing it to $1.7 billion in 15 years.

Blackboard President and CEO Michael Chasen addressing members of the technology community at the Titans event.
Blackboard President and CEO Michael Chasen addressing members of the technology community at the Titans event.

Lesson one, according to Chasen, is to focus on the business, and not on the office. Chasen asserted that it’s more important to focus on your business model, hiring the right staff and growing your company, rather than spending time and money on office aesthetics, adding that he stole six chairs from KPMG Consulting when he left to start Blackboard.

Chasen’s second lesson is to constantly share your vision, which coincides with lesson three: network the network. Chasen added that he attended many meetings and business plan competitions in Blackboard’s early days to get the company’s name out and to meet potential partners and investors. He shared his belief that opportunities can be found in unlikely places, since “networking the network” in this way led Blackboard to its first angel investor.

Lesson four is to always seek advice but, at the same time, be an expert in your business. Chasen added that you must hire people in the management team with expertise, know your business model and stay true to the company’s vision to drive the company forward.

Tying back to lesson one, Chasen’s lesson five is that your business model has to make money. He shared stories of competitors who weren’t charging clients for their services and ultimately failed. Blackboard succeeded, however, because its business model supports itself and can grow and scale up.

Referring to the five lessons, Chasen argued how “important it is to be active in the community.” Chasen thanked those in the region’s technology community who helped Blackboard along the way and called them the differentiators that led to the company’s success.

Titans gift presentation to Chasen. (L-R) Signature Platinum Sponsor Comcast Business Class Enterprise Sales Director Billy Becker with Chasen.
Titans gift presentation to Chasen. (L-R) Signature Platinum Sponsor Comcast Business Class Enterprise Sales Director Billy Becker with Chasen.

The morning ended with a lively question-and-answer session during which Chasen addressed his plan to be active in the technology and entrepreneur community following his retirement from Blackboard and shared his tips for aspiring entrepreneurs.